In everyday life there are constantly competing demands on attention by the outside world as well as from internally generated goals. The need for mechanisms to arbitrate between these competing demands is straightforward so that they can be integrated, prioritized, or selected, to provide coherent and adaptive behavior. Research has suggested the existence of separate networks of attention: orienting—involved in moving attention in space; selection or executive control—responsible for processing relevant information and ignoring irrelevant information; and alerting—involved in changes in arousal. These networks involve different neural tissues.

Orienting of visual attention to a point of interest may originate at will, as when we decide to look at a particular location where something of interest is expected, or it may originate reflexively without intention when something captures our attention, as when we orient to a flash of light in the dark or to a movement in the periphery of our vision. We use cueing tasks to study both reflexive (exogenous) and controlled (endogenous) mechanisms of attention. We use this task with humans and also with fish (archer fish).

In ordPicture2.pnger to study selective attention we create conflict situations in which the subject has to respond to one stimulus or to one aspect of the stimulus and ignore another stimulus or another aspect of the stimulus. In these situations the subject needs to focus on the target (a stimulus or an aspect of a stimulus) and ignore all the rest of the display. Examples for tasks used for studying this type of selection are the Stroop color naming and the flanker tasks. In the Stroop task color-words are presented in color and subjects are asked to name the color of the ink and ignore the meaning of the word. People are commonly slower in responding to incongruent (BLUE) than to neutral (XXXX) or to congruent (RED) conditions. This suggests that they cannot ignore the meaning of the word (i.e., a failure of selective attention). In the flanker task the relevant and irrelevant attributes are presented in separate locations, for example, when subjects must focus on a letter at the center of a screen and ignore the flanking letters. ]

Alertness is studied by using an infrequent cue (in most cases a tone) before the imperative stimulus. We study various aspects of alertness. For example, we examine whether effects of alertness can be dissociated from effects of temporal orienting of attention and the relationship between alertness and executive control.  

We have recently received a grant from the German-Israel Foundation (GIF) to study the role of the pulvinar in cognitive control. The grant title is: Cortical and subcortical contributions to cognitive control. Our German partners are:  Prof. Peter Weiss-Blankenhorn, Prof. Gereon Fink and Dr. Simone Vossel from the Institute of Medicine Forschungszentrum, Juelich.


Selected publications

Gabay, S., Henik, A., & Gradstein, L. (2010).Ocular motor ability and covert attention in patients with uane Retraction Syndrome.Neuropsychologia, 48, 3102-3109.

Goldfarb, L., Aisenberg, D., & Henik, A. (2011). Think the thought, walk the walk—social priming reduces the Stroop effect. Cognition, 118, 193-200.

Weinbach, N., & Henik, A. (2011). Phasic alertness can modulate executive control by enhancing global processing of visual stimuli. Cognition, 121, 454-458.

Aisenberg, D., & Henik, A. (2012). Stop being neutral – Simon takes control! The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 65, 295-304.

Gabay, S., Avni, D., & Henik, A. (in press). Reflexive orienting by central arrows: Evidence from the inattentional blindness task. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.

Klanthroff, E., Goldfarb, L., & Henik A. (in press).Evidence for interaction between the stop-signal and the Stroop task conflict.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.

Weinbach, N., & Henik, A. (in press). The relationship between alertness and executive control.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.​